Sunday, May 29, 2011

Anger - OK or Not?

Most of us are taught when we are growing up that it isn't appropriate or acceptable to express anger.  We learn that while it may be OK to feel angry, we're not supposed to act on those feelings, or at the very least we should be extremely careful about how we express our anger.  I believe this to be the case even more so for females than for males.  It's not considered "lady-like" to get mad, show frustration, express negative feelings, or act on feelings of anger.  However, this was apparently not something that I learned very well because I have always been very vocal about expressing my anger.  That didn't change after Eddie's death. 

Once I started counseling sessions and visits with the preacher I had to admit and explore my feelings of anger.  I learned from them as well as from my reading that anger is a normal response to the loss of a loved one, and that holding it in, not expressing it can lead to depression.  It is a natural reaction and sometimes appears suddenly.  It can be expressed outwardly or through withdrawal, and is usually related to what we see as the unfairness of the death.  Our anger may be misplaced or misdirected because we are looking for someone to blame, and if we are completely honest we want someone to "pay" for what happened. 

I've always known that anger was a step in the grieving process, but I never knew for sure who you were supposed to get mad at.  I assumed it was the person who died - you should get mad at them for leaving - but my anger wasn't directed at Eddie.  I tried to make myself mad at him - after all he abandoned me by choice.  But every time I tried all I could do was picture him on the side of the road, at night, in the rain, alone, feeling so desperate that he felt his only solution was to end his own life, so I only felt pain and heartache.   My feelings of anger toward him never developed.  They did develop towards everyone else though.

I was mad at Eddie's family for a time.  They all lived anywhere from 2 - 4 1/2 hours from us, so they didn't have to see his drinking problem on a daily basis.  I lived with him 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and I experienced his drinking and everything that went along with it for years.  I was the one who sat up at night worrying about him when he didn't come home.  I was the one who went out looking for him at all hours of the day and night.  I was the one who went into bars and night clubs at midnight or 1:00 in the morning if for no other reason than to take his keys away so he couldn't drive home.  I was the one who made excuses to his friends and mine when we didn't show up to invited events.  I was the one who experienced his anger when he had too much to drink.  All his family knew was what I told them, and to protect them (and him) I hid a lot of what went on.  For a time I felt like they thought I was exaggerating when I did tell them things.  It wasn't until he had to go to rehab that I think they all truly accepted that he had a serious problem.  I was also angry that I was here when Eddie died and they weren't.

I was mad at my own family for a time, though I don't really know why.  All they ever did was be there for me and support me.  But they were also closer to the situation than Eddie's family was.  They knew more what I lived with and what I put up with.  They were more realistic and honest about what was going on.  I think in a way it made me angry that I couldn't hide things from them.  Despite everything, I always wanted to defend and protect Eddie, and I couldn't do that easily with my family.  After his death, for some reason that I'll never understand, their support and protection made me angry for awhile.

I was also mad at myself after Eddie's death.  I was angry that I hadn't been able to do more to help him with his drinking problem.  I was angry that I hadn't gone out looking for him the night he died.  I felt guilty that I hadn't told him I loved him before he left that evening.  I felt regret over all of the unresolved issues that we would never have a chance to address.  I was angry that I had lost control of my own life and was having such difficulty moving forward or even functioning at this point.

Finally I was mad at God.  We're not supposed to admit that are we?   I wanted to know where He was the night Eddie died.  I wanted to know why He allowed this to happen to our family.  I thought He was in control of everything, so I felt like He could have prevented this.  It was the preacher who helped me realize that it's OK to be angry with God, as long as you admit your anger to Him and ask Him to help you through it.  Anger at God does not mean a lack of faith, it is just one more way that we respond to our loss.  In the Bible Job was angry at God for all that happened to him that he felt was unfair.  He expressed his anger many times ... "Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul" (Job 7:11); "I loathe my very life, therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me" (Job 10:1-2).  Anger with God can also be found in many Psalm verses ... "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?" (Psalm 13:1-2); "My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me and so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer" (Psalm 22:1-2).   I had to accept that it was OK for me to be angry with God too...

               Angry at God
I told God I was angry,
I thought He'd be surprised.
I thought I'd kept hostility
quite cleverly disguised.

I told the Lord I hate Him.
I told Him that I hurt.
I told Him that He isn't fair,
He's treated me like dirt.

I told God I was angry
but I'm the one surprised.
"What I've known all along," He said,
"you've finally realized."

"At last you have admitted
what's really in your heart,
Dishonesty, not anger
was keeping us apart.

"Even when you hate Me
I don't stop loving you.
Before you can receive that love
you must confess what's true."

"In telling Me the anger
you genuinely feel,
it loses power over you,
permitting you to heal."

I told God I was sorry
And He's forgiven me.
The truth that I was angry
Has finally set me free.

-Jessica Shaver (Angry at God, an excerpt from Under His Wings, by Patsy Claremont)


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